There are many different causes of swollen ankles. In most cases, swelling is due to injury or edema.
This article examines 12 causes of swollen ankles and covers some of the best treatment options.
People who sustain an injury to the foot or ankle may experience inflammation in that area, causing it to appear swollen.
Ankle sprains are common, accounting for up to 40% of sports-related injuries.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the following home treatment for a sprained ankle:
- immediately applying ice wrapped in a thin piece of cloth
- applying a compression wrap, bandage, or dressing
- elevating the foot above heart level
- taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to ease the pain and reduce swelling
- wearing a walking boot or brace to provide ankle support
Cellulitis can cause various symptoms, including redness, warm skin, and swelling that spreads rapidly. In rare cases, cellulitis can be life threatening without treatment.
People with cellulitis need to take antibiotics. It is essential to tell a doctor if the swelling does not reduce or gets worse after a few days of treatment.
Some medications can cause the ankles to swell as a side effect. Such medications include:
- birth control pills and others containing estrogen
- testosterone pills
- calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure
People who suspect their swollen ankle may be a side effect of medication may wish to talk with a doctor.
They may prescribe diuretic medications or suggest methods for reducing the swelling if it is uncomfortable.
CVI can be painful and uncomfortable. It may also cause noticeable changes to the skin.
These valves usually make sure that blood flows toward the heart. In CVI, the valves malfunction and allow blood to flow backward and pool in the lower legs and ankles.
A doctor can help a person with CVI develop a personalized treatment plan.
Examples of some
- wearing compression stockings to reduce swelling and help heal skin ulcers
- avoiding prolonged sitting or standing
- keeping the legs raised to improve blood flow
- walking or doing exercises that build the calf muscles
- undergoing ablation, which uses heat or chemicals to destroy damaged veins
DVT obstructs the flow of blood returning to the heart, causing it to build up in the affected limb.
Sometimes, the body can compensate for the blockage by gradually diverting blood through smaller neighboring veins. Over time, these veins get larger and can drain blood from the limb.
If these veins do not increase in size, the limb may remain swollen. Persistent pain and swelling after a DVT is called post-thrombotic syndrome.
People who experience a DVT should consider:
- elevating the affected limb
- wearing compression stockings to promote blood flow
- taking anticoagulant medications, or blood thinners
- undergoing a stent procedure, during which a surgeon inserts a tube into the vein to keep it open
During pregnancy, the body produces more blood and bodily fluids to support the developing fetus.
Swelling is a common side effect of pregnancy, especially in the
Slight swelling is common and usually harmless. However, sudden swelling of the hands and face could signify a potentially life threatening condition called preeclampsia.
Women who experience mild swelling during pregnancy may get relief from home remedies such as:
Preeclampsia that occurs during pregnancy can also affect the fetus.
It requires urgent medical treatment. Treatment may include medications to prevent seizures and lower blood pressure.
Delivering the baby is the most effective treatment, although some people may experience worsening symptoms before they get better.
Lymphedema is a swelling that affects the soft tissues in the arms or legs, including the ankles. It is due to a buildup of a fluid called lymph. This is mainly composed of white blood cells, which help fight infection.
Lymphedema occurs when there is a blockage or other damage to the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of infection and keep fluids in balance.
Damage to the lymphatic system is irreversible, so treatment aims to reduce swelling and prevent other symptoms.
- wearing pressure garments and bandages
- increasing heart and respiration rate through exercise
- getting a gentle massage from a trained therapist
In right-sided and congestive heart failure, a reduction in blood flow out of the heart causes blood to back up into the veins. This may lead to fluid buildup in tissues, including the legs and ankles.
Although there is no cure for heart failure, many different treatment options and
A doctor may prescribe diuretic medications and suggest monitoring and reducing fluid intake. Both of these treatments can help reduce swelling in the ankles and legs.
During ESRD, the kidneys struggle to remove waste and extra fluid from the body. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including swollen ankles.
The following lifestyle factors can also help maintain kidney function for as long as possible:
A healthy liver produces a protein called albumin. Albumin prevents fluid from leaking out of the blood vessels and surrounding tissues.
Very low albumin levels due to liver disease can cause a buildup of fluid in the legs, ankles, and abdomen.
A doctor may prescribe medications and advise on certain lifestyle factors that could help prevent or slow further liver damage. Examples include:
- exercising regularly
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- limiting salt intake
- avoiding alcohol
Hypothyroidism can affect a person’s muscles and joints, causing aches, pains, stiffness, and swelling.
If a person has hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid, their thyroid gland produces too few hormones.
A doctor can perform a blood test to check a person’s thyroid hormone levels. Treatment involves taking synthetic thyroid hormones.
A person should contact a doctor if they have:
- heat or discoloration in the swollen area
- swelling that worsens or does not improve
- a fever
- a sudden increase in swelling during pregnancy
- a history of heart, kidney, or liver disease
Many cases of edema, or swollen ankles, will resolve with proper home treatment.